The trucks are heading southwest to Maryvale and the projections are being rolled out steadily now around the internet, which means that baseball — whether or not the free agents are signed yet — is almost back.
There are plenty of numbers worded within this post, so I won’t spend too much time leading into it all. The headline includes most of what you need to know. Below are the hitting-only CHace projections for the 2018 Milwaukee Brewers, sorted out by position groups.
Given this was my first crack at doing so with a whole roster (stay tuned for Brewers CHace pitching projections coming soon), we might as well just dive in headfirst and embrace that these will be way off come October.
I’ll be glad to answer any questions if you have them, both in the comments or on Twitter @CyrtHogg. This also applies to suggestions or tips on how to improve the system.
We’ll get to a position group-by-position group breakdown here shortly, but the big picture looks promising for Milwaukee hitters this year.
Since the 2017 Brewers are the most fresh in our minds and this team has significant carryover from a year ago, it’s interesting to evaluate how this stacks up with last year’s 86-win squad.
This year’s team projects at a .331 wOBA as a group under current plate appearance projections, compared to .321 in 2017. That’s good for a 3 percent jump and would have been the sixth-highest total in all of baseball last season along with Washington. At .321, the Brewers were right in the middle of the pack a season ago, tied for 15th with the Rangers, Mariners, and Tigers despite the metric not being park-adjusted...
...which leads us to wRC+, which is adjusted to account for the effects of playing 81 games in hitter-friendly Miller Park. In that category, Milwaukee had just the 20th-best offense a year ago with a 93 wRC+. They were seven percent below league average, and a second-half slide with the bats is a large reason they missed out on the second Wild Card spot.
Now? The team wRC+ comes in at 100, which is right at league average for an individual batter but would have tied for ninth leaguewide a year ago. (Note: the CHace projections don’t account for pitchers hitting, which had a -28 wRC+ in 5.2 percent of the team’s PA a year ago, so overall we’re looking at just under a 100 wRC+ as a team.)
You may note the 760 runs, which would be a 28-run increase, but I wouldn’t put invest too much in that number. I came to that number via runs per time on base, which isn’t all that predictive of a team’s run total for our purposes. We’ll get to a runs for/against and record projection at a later date.
A couple other quick notes: Milwaukee hit 224 homers last year and are pinned for 212 in 2018. CHace simply calls for HR/FB regression from guys like Domingo Santana, Travis Shaw, and Eric Thames. Walks are up, which will happen when Yelich is getting a bunch of plate appearances and Hernan Perez no longer is. Strikeouts are also down from a record-setting number a year ago, largely because of Lorenzo Cain manning center field rather than the group of guys who combined for a 37.4 (!!) K% a year ago.
So, in summary, if the breakout seasons of Shaw, Thames, and Santana weren’t all total flukes (more on this later), it’s tough to see the Brewers finishing 21st in runs again.
CHace would like you to temper your expectations for Manny Pina (94 wRC+, 1.7 WARP last year) thanks to some BABIP regression and a power dip, although there’s certainly still value there given his defense.
Stephen Vogt, though, projects to look more like the Milwaukee Stephen Vogt than the 2016 second-half and 2017 first-half Oakland Stephen Vogt. He always had sizable home/road HR/FB splits with the A’s and that has carried over for a .187 ISO projection.
And then there’s Jett Bandy (.687 OPS, .295 wOBA, 77 wRC+), who could struggle to find playing time with what looks like a clear-cut platoon behind the dish. His bat is that of a backup catcher, but mixed in with his defense, he is a solid depth piece. As for Jacob Nottingham, he could become the next man up at catcher if Bandy is DFA’d in spring training, but doesn’t draw any PA projections yet.
The Brewers had a pair of significant breakout campaigns from players on the dirt last season in the likes of Eric Thames (124 wRC+) and Travis Shaw (119 wRC+). But overall, this is still an interesting group as a whole. You have Jonathan Villar, who saw a decline in just about every area at the plate after a career year in 2016. You have Orlando Arcia, whose defense should only continue to improve while the jury is still out on his offense. You have Eric Sogard, who signed a minor league deal and then sort of did a complete plate discipline 180 in his age-31 season.
CHace factors in some good ol’ regression with Thames’ power and strikeouts in his age-31 season. His HR/FB rate was 24.6% — 28.4% in the first half and 17.8% in the second — so we will get a better feel for how much of that was the real deal in his second year since returning to the MLB. His plate discipline is projected to be tops on the team, however, in terms of walk rate.
Thames owned the majority of the timeshare at first base in 2017, but still split time throughout the year with Jesus Aguilar. Now, with a logjam of outfielders leading to talk of Ryan Braun at first base, it’s tough to see where Aguilar’s PAs will come from under the current roster construction. Even if Braun sticks solely to the outfield, the Brewers will likely have Braun/Santana, Sogard, Perez, and Vogt/Pina on the bench. If they choose to carry a fifth bat on the Opening Day roster, which seems likely, it would probably come down to Aguilar, Brett Phillips, and Keon Broxton.
All of that was just to say that CHace pins Aguilar for 195 PA at this point. Aguilar’s 112 wRC+ was a nice surprise for the Brewers a year ago, but there’s reason he’s projected to regress. Chiefly, the .337 BABIP that was fiercely aided by the game’s highest average on fly balls in play.
At second base, the Jonathan Villar/Eric Sogard platoon is projected for a wRC+ of 84. Sogard was a revelation for Milwaukee after inking only a minor league deal, but also posted career years in terms of power, BABIP, and walks. Milwaukee could be rolling the dice on Villar running into his 2016 form again (.356 wOBA, 19 HR, 63 SB), but a Neil Walker-type signing here would likely serve as a nice upgrade if it were to go down that road.
Orlando Arcia could be due for a power boost, with CHace modestly reflecting that (.142 ISO without a HR/FB jump) while, overall, maintaining his 2017 form at the plate. Mauricio Dubon also gets a few PA here after getting added to the 40-man and CHace already sees a fifth infielder floor for him in the near future.
No, Hernan Perez still isn’t going to walk. That limits any upside that comes from his average, but the Brewers seemingly love his defensive versatility. So even with the Yelich and Cain additions crowding the depth chart around the diamond, there’s still a relatively high floor for Perez’s PA. He’s a nice utility piece, but giving Perez 241 PA rather than the 444 he’s averaged over the last two years is probably a positive for Milwaukee.
Travis Shaw was listed as a darkhorse MVP candidate by MLB.com earlier this week, and while a projected .347 wOBA is nothing to scoff at, CHace isn’t ready to put him in that conversation yet. There’s still some upside there, though: his walk rate coming up with the Red Sox was impressive and he’s improved in that area in each of the last 3 seasons; it isn’t unrealistic to see a repeat of a .312 BABIP with lots of hard-hit balls; and lefties generally feast at Miller Park.
Guess who’s back, back again
Ryan Braun’s back*, tell a friend
Guess who’s back, guess who’s back
Guess who’s back, guess who’s back
*if the results align with CHace projections, that is
Braun, in perhaps a surprising twist, comes in tied with Yelich for the best Milwaukee hitter in 2018 with a 121 wRC+, so naturally, we’ll start there.
The 34-year-old is coming off of the worst offensive season of his career last year with a 110 wRC+. Some would tell you that it was a sign of aging, and it’s going to get worse from here-on-out for Braun. That could turn out to be the truth, we simply don’t know yet.
With that kind of offensive production from Braun (thanks in large part to slight-to-moderate regressions to career form in terms of BABIP and HR/FB in addition to steady walk-and-strikeout rates), it will be hard for Milwaukee to not find playing time for him.
Yelich is clearly the beneficiary of going from Marlins Park to Miller Park. He squares up the ball with some of the best in the league and has seen an upward trend in his fly ball rates in each of the last 3 years. CHace pins the move to Miller Park good for a 2.5% increase in HR/FB from his career rate, but has no basis to believe Yelich will just suddenly start launching more flies yet. That will be one trend to keep an eye on as the season goes on.
Elsewhere, Keon Broxton has seen a dip in projected playing time, but a happy medium in walks, strikeouts, and BABIP compared to his first two years with the Brewers make him a valuable bench player. Broxton’s numbers in those categories have been up-and-down even going back to his minor league days, which still makes him a tough player to peg.
Brett Phillips’ numbers can be summarized like this: he had a .408 BABIP a year ago (and .412 at Colorado Springs!).
To cap it all off, Domingo Santana may be with the Brewers when they break camp to head north, or he may not be. Heck, he may not even be with the Brewers in a week. Them’s just the ways that David Stearns operates. Who knows how the questions surrounding whether or not Santana will be a part of the Brewers going forward will affect his play, if at all? There’s no definitive answer — it could go both ways. So that doesn’t factor in here.
What does, though, is Santana’s wild and totally awesome HR/FB rates despite not being a guy that hits very many fly balls. The good news is that everything said about Yelich in terms of hitting line drives applies to Santana. Only six players created what FanGraphs designates as “soft” contact less often than Santana and their names include Justin Turner, Joey Votto, and Aaron Judge. The bad news, per CHace, is that fewer of his fly balls are projected to leave the yard. Now, if his BABIP on fly balls remains well above both the league average and what Statcast says is “expected”, that’s one case. If those are finding gloves, he’s certainly a candidate for regression.